By Drazen Jorgic
ELDORET (Reuters) - Kenyan 3,000 meters steeplechase world champion Ezekiel Kemboi could miss the London Olympics after he was charged with assault on Thursday following a violent incident during the previous night.
A member of Team Kenya, who spoke on the condition that he was not identified, said Kemboi was unlikely to travel to Britain after appearing in court.
"According to the rules we were given by the local organizing committee, one cannot enter the UK if he or she is facing court charges of criminal nature," said the official.
Kemboi's next court appearance is scheduled for September 25 but Kemboi's lawyer said the 2004 Olympic gold medalist was still planning to compete in London.
"He has been charged with an offence of assault. It was not an assault with grievous harm, just an assault," Kemboi's defense lawyer Michael Chemwok told reporters at the court house in the town of Eldoret.
"He's still innocent until proven guilty. He still plans to go the Olympics and he's not affected at all," Chemwok told Reuters.
A woman called Ann Njeri told local media earlier on Thursday from hospital in Eldoret that she had been drinking with Kemboi until late on Wednesday night. The runner attacked her with a knife when she declined his advances.
Kemboi, who is also a police officer, rejected the accusation.
"Yesterday, I was attacked by five thugs who were in a red car. One of them tried to knife me but I ducked so the knife injured one of them. So, today, they have turned around the story to say it's me who attacked them. But I've left the matter with my lawyers who are handling it," he told reporters at the court house.
POOL OF BLOOD
Kemboi appeared in court wearing a blue hooded tracksuit jumper. He smiled and waved to scores of spectators who packed the courtroom. The courtroom doors were left open and people spilled into the waiting area outside.
Njeri's father, Paul Mwea, told reporters he had seen a four-wheeled Toyota Landcruiser car outside his house during the night and went to open the door.
"I never knew what was happening by then but my daughter was lying on a pool of blood outside the gate so the guy sped off and I took my daughter to the hospital," Mwea said.
Earlier Kemboi was questioned for over four hours at a police station in Eldoret, a small town in western Kenya's Rift Valley close to the Iten training camp where most of Kenya's middle and long distance runners prepare for major competitions.
As passing cars avoided orange-colored potholes full of overnight rain outside the police station, Kenya's 1,500 World Championships silver medalist Silas Kiplagat mingled with fellow athletes and group of Kenyan journalists in expectation of news.
By the time Kemboi left the police station and headed for the Eldoret Chief Magistrate's Court, over 100 spectators had amassed outside.
For many Kenyans, Kemboi's controversy and potential fall from grace are an untimely reminder of the death of Olympic marathon champion Samuel Wanjiru in May 2011. He plunged to death from the first-floor balcony of his home after the athlete's wife found him in bed with another woman.
Wanjiru, 24, won Kenya's first men's marathon gold in Beijing in 2008 and had been regarded as one of the greatest current talents in an east African country long renowned for its distance runners.
Kemboi finished second in last week's Kenyan national trials in Nairobi and performed a dance for adoring fans as he secured a spot on the plane to London.
Now his running career is in doubt and his goal to equal Kipchoge Keino's record and become only the second double Olympic gold medalists from Kenya is in jeopardy.
"This is very bad. Its unfortunate and it is also at the wrong time (so close to the Olympics). This is the wrong kind of press for Kenya," said Yobes Ondieki, a former world 5,000 meters champion who now lives in Eldoret.
(Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by David Clarke and John Mehaffey)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012. Check for restrictions at: http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp